Chapter 2

WHAT is the force that moves nations?

Biographical historians, and historians writing of separate nations, understand this force as a power residing in heroes and sovereigns. According to their narratives, the events were entirely due to the wills of Napoleons, of Alexanders, or, generally speaking, of those persons who form the subject of historical memoirs. The answers given by historians of this class to the question as to the force which brings about events are satisfactory, but only so long as there is only one historian for any event. But as soon as historians of different views and different nationalities begin describing the same event, the answers given by them immediately lose all their value, as this force is understood by them, not only differently, but often in absolutely opposite ways. One historian asserts that an event is due to the power of Napoleon; another maintains that it is produced by the power of Alexander; a third ascribes it to the influence of some third person. Moreover, historians of this class contradict one another even in their explanation of the force on which the influence of the same person is based. Thiers, a Bonapartist, says that Napoleon’s power rested on his virtue and his genius; Lanfrey, a Republican, declares that it rested on his duplicity and deception of the people. So that historians of this class, mutually destroying each other’s position, at the same time destroy the conception of the force producing events, and give no answer to the essential question of history.

Writers of universal history, who have to deal with all the nations at once, appear to recognise the incorrectness of the views of historians of separate countries as to the force that produces events. They do not recognise this force as a power pertaining to heroes and sovereigns, but regard it as the resultant of many forces working in different directions. In describing a war on the subjugation of a people, the writer of general history seeks the cause of the event, not in the power of one person, but in the mutual action on one another of many persons connected with the event.

The power of historical personages conceived as the product of several forces, according to this view, can hardly, one would have supposed, be regarded as a self-sufficient force independently producing events. Yet writers of general history do in the great majority of cases employ the conception of power again as a self-sufficient force producing events and standing in the relation of cause to them. According to their exposition now the historical personage is the product of his time, and his power is only the product of various forces, now his power is the force producing events. Gervinus, Schlosser, for instance, and others, in one place, explain that Napoleon is the product of the Revolution, of the ideas of 1789, and so on; and in another plainly state that the campaign of 1812 and other events not to their liking are simply the work of Napoleon’s wrongly directed will, and that the very ideas of 1789 were arrested in their development by Napoleon’s arbitrary rule. The ideas of the Revolution, the general temper of the age produced Napoleon’s power. The power of Napoleon suppressed the ideas of the Revolution and the general temper of the age.

This strange inconsistency is not an accidental one. It confronts us at every turn, and, in fact, whole works upon universal history are made up of consecutive series of such inconsistencies. This inconsistency is due to the fact that after taking a few steps along the road of analysis, these historians have stopped short halfway.

To find the component forces that make up the composite or resultant force, it is essential that the sum of the component parts should equal the resultant. This condition is never observed by historical writers, and consequently, to explain the resultant force, they must inevitably admit, in addition to those insufficient contributory forces, some further unexplained force that affects also the resultant action.

The historian describing the campaign of 1813, or the restoration of the Bourbons, says bluntly that these events were produced by the will of Alexander. But the philosophic historian Gervinus, controverting the view of the special historian of those events, seeks to prove that the campaign of 1813 and the restoration of the Bourbons was due not only to Alexander, but also to the work of Stein, Metternich, Madame de Staël, Talleyrand, Fichte, Chateaubriand, and others. The historian obviously analyses the power of Alexander into component forces. Talleyrand, Chateaubriand, and so on, and the sum of these component forces,

  By PanEris using Melati.

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